Monday, February 21, 2005

Wasted votes and threshold distortions

Big News has a post on the "wasted vote". We all know - or we all should know - that under MMP, the number of seats a party wins in Parliament is determined by its proportion of the party vote. But it's a little bit more complicated than that, because if we simply applied the above rule, we would always have a Parliament of less than 120 seats, due to the distorting effects of the 5% threshold. In order to have a fixed-size Parliament, we therefore assign each party seats based on the proportion of the party vote of all parties eligible for seats. This isn't so much a reallocation of the wasted vote (as Dave mischaracterises it), but a way of ignoring it. Those votes are effectively not even counted in the final result.

(The exact number of seats is actually determined by the Sainte-Laguë formula, but this is really about who benefits from rounding)

If we are concerned about the "wasted vote", then there is an obvious way to solve it: elminate the threshold (or rather, reduce it 0.8%, the amount required to gain a single MP). While some parties will still fail to make this lower barrier, there will be far fewer wasted votes (only 20,023 based on last election's results), and therefore far fewer people disenfranchised. And in a democracy, that can only be a Good Thing.


I kinow you disagree, but my argument in defence of a threshold is that a small party getting just one MP elected gains much more influence than a larger party getting one MP elected. The United Future members have a lot more clout than if (when) they were National or Labour backbenchers.

The threshold evens it out by ensuring that only parties with reasonably substantial support can join in the process of forming a coalition.

Posted by Rich : 2/21/2005 09:09:00 AM

Also abolishing the threshold will encourage extremism if a Party can get into Parliament with less than 1% of the vote. And those extreme parties will as Rich says hold a lot of power. Israel provides the example of why this can be unhealthy.

Posted by David Farrar : 2/21/2005 10:10:00 AM

I agree with you that it would be better democracy to have no threshold but I also agree with david that it would be great encouragement to national front and other such parties who would have MPs always in the headlines doing somthing stupid.

I guess one option if we cant get evidence we could try it and see if our fears eventuate.

Posted by Genius : 2/21/2005 10:49:00 AM

I must agree with DF. I am opposed to relaxing the five percent threshold, as it could let fundamentalist Christian nutters, neofascists and other undesirables into Parliament.

Please. Some of us are doing our best to get rid of UFNZ, and MMP
threshold abolitionists now want to do the same for Destiny NZ??!
Or the National Front??

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 2/21/2005 01:10:00 PM

While the 5% threshold was instigated in Germany in order to prevent 'extreme' parties from gaining seats - I don't think the 5% threshold is an effective enough 'preventative' measure to justify the costs to democracy of discounting votes.

A couple of books I have read on the history of the third reich have reported that when political scientists/historians look back at how the Nazi's rose to power they have concluded that the Nazis could have gained power just as easily under an FPP system. If anything, they could gave gained power faster as gaining seats under FPP requires a smaller number of supporters in a concentrated area. Consider the success of the National Front in UK council elections under FPP.

Nor am I convinced that allowing one or two seat parties into parliament will prevent the formation of stable coalitions - other options are always available - even if that forces parties to work together (who for reasons of history claim they can't work together), even though they are both, at the end of the day, committmed to the same neoliberal economic framework (you know the parties I am talking about!)

Change the threshold to 0.8%, or at least lower it to 4% as the royal commission in 1986 recommended.

Posted by Joe Hendren : 2/21/2005 05:54:00 PM

> Nazi's rose to power they have concluded that the Nazis could have gained power just as easily under an FPP system.

that arguiment is statisticaly improbable. the odds of you gaining lets say 11,000 votes in wellington central to win a FPP for an extreemist party is ridiculously less likely than gaining 20,000 votes in total across he country for that same party.
Even if that was not the case in pre WWII germany (which I doubt) it sure as hell is not true in NZ today.

My best guess is that the people writing the books supported Proportional representation and were trying to make it look good.

Posted by Genius : 2/21/2005 09:32:00 PM

Another way to make use of the "wasted vote" is using preferences, where if your first preference doesn't make the 5%, you choose which part your vote goes towards. What would be ideal would be to also choose at what point you don't want your vote to count. Like with me, I'd vote ACT, then National, then I'd want my vote not to be counted at all, since there is absolutely no way I want any other party to get it.


Posted by Anonymous : 2/21/2005 09:56:00 PM

The Nazis were initially concentrated in Bavaria, so could probably have won seats in, say, working class areas of Munich or Nurnburg. I haven't read the books Joe has, so I don't know what their arguments are.

I think the growth of Nazism was an example of "political mass hysteria" - other more benign ones being the reaction to Princess Diana's death and to the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001. Millions of people became convinced that Germany had serious problems (it did) and that Hitler was the man to solve them (I think not..)

Posted by Rich : 2/22/2005 09:45:00 AM

On the subject of NZ in the present day, I would advocate the following tactical voting opportunity:

Non-Brash supporters in electorates the Nats might win should give their electorate votes to National, while giving their party votes to whoever they support.

If this catches on, the Nats will have an overhang and their list MPs (including Dr Brash) won't get elected! Still I'm sure an ACT MP would step aside to make room for him.

Posted by Rich : 2/23/2005 04:00:00 PM

While you are at it, why not go the whole hog of having a 0.8% threshold, plus an abolition of all electorate seasts, Maori and general. That way you have perfect proportional representation and got rid of the false dichotomy between electorate and list MPs. Israel may have extreme parties in parliament but is no less strong a democracy than ours. And the 5% threshold has not prevented the NPD to gain seats in the Saxony parliament, they just got over the hurdle.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 2/24/2005 09:53:00 AM